Let’s talk about the confectionery reminiscent of Marie “Let them eat macarons” Antoinette. No, it isn’t macaroon – there’s only one “o”. Say it with me, maca-RON. Like Weasley. A French macaron is a gluten-free ‘cookie’ made with icing sugar, ground almonds and meringue, sandwiched together with either ganache, buttercream, jam or other yummy fillings.
For years, I’ve seen them while perusing food blogs. I’ve heard about them from people who’ve been to Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. And even though I’ve successfully made a few batches this year, I have no idea what the hallowed macarons of Paris taste like. I kind of hope, arrogantly, that mine taste the same. Someday, I hope to discover the truth – even if it isn’t at all kind to my vanity.
I mentioned to Luts (brainchild of our blog yet still hasn't posted:), that I really want to try this out. I’ve read how tricky it is, and I felt like a challenge. She insisted that our humidity is a killer to these temperamental French sweets, and even chefs have trouble with them in humid climes. With a slight brazen but mostly doomed-to-fail attitude, I ploughed through and voilà! I thanked David Lebovitz and his pretty perfect recipe – that I tweaked only a little (castor sugar instead of granulated sugar, baked at 160 degrees instead of 180 for the full 18 minutes)
The following two times I made macarons, I alternated using ‘aged’ egg whites (24 hours, separated egg whites at room temperature) and egg whites brought to room temperature by leaving them in a bowl on the counter for an hour. Both times – the macarons were the same – feet, shell, texture. Hence, I came to the conclusion that ageing your egg whites makes no difference. However, I don’t use ‘fresh’ just-purchased-from-the-store eggs; they had been in the refrigerator for at least a week (in their shells I mean).
David Lebovitz doesn’t let his macarons rest before baking – but I find that when I let them rest longer (30-45 minutes), they looked a lot better. Even from the numerous posts I read – people either don’t age their eggs or they use egg whites that have been aged three days, some attribute the elusive ‘pied’ (foot at the base of the macaron shell) to rapping their hands underneath the baking tray before baking, others to letting them rest till a dry shell forms before baking – whatever floats your boat. I’ve come to perform some of these acts as ‘rituals’ just because itworked at that time. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work the first time, mine looked gooey and oblong the first time. That’s why I love the circle template that I downloaded. I found it while reading Marv Woodhouse's blog. I'm so grateful to have a piping guide - most of my macarons actually match now.
Yields 48 shells – 24 macaron ‘sandwiches’
3 large egg whites
75 g castor sugar
150g icing sugar
50g powdered almonds
50g powdered pistachio
Powdered food colouring – green
Step 1: Egg Prep
Separate your egg whites either the day before, or an hour before to reach room temperature.
Step 2: Nuts and icing sugar
In a mixing bowl – sift in the icing sugar, powdered almonds and powdered pistachio.
Sifting the nuts helps to separate the bigger grainier bits from the powdery mixture. If there’s quite a bit – I like to put the grainier pieces in a coffee grinder to process it more finely. It’s an important step, even if it takes a while – since you shouldn’t grind for long (because it heats up). Using a spoon, scrape the mixture through the sifter. Stir the mixture so that the icing sugar and powdered nuts are combined.
Step 3: French meringue
In another (spotless clean) bowl, make a French meringue by whisking egg whites until foamy with an electric stand or hand mixer. Then gradually add castor sugar while beating continuously. Keep beating until the mixture forms peaks. The way it looks always reminds me of soft-serve ice cream. How to know if your sugar is completely dissolved – take a bit of the meringue between your index finger and thumb and rub it, if it feels grainy – continue beating until you can’t feel the sugar crystals. That’s why I like using castor sugar, I feel it dissolves better than granulated white sugar. Also, someone told me that your meringue is done if you can hold the bowl over your head and nothing falls out. Using a spoon over the bowl is probably safer – scoop out some meringue and turn the spoon upside down, if it doesn’t slide off, your meringue is ready.
Add your powdered food colouring to the meringue; beat in until combined and you see the desired colour tone.
Step 5: Le macaronnage. Fold, fold, fold.
The part we've been waiting for: this technique is formally known as ‘macaronnage’. Apparently this step determines whether your macarons will have a perfect shell and form the ‘pied’ (foot). In three additions, add your icing sugar/powdered nuts mixture from step one to your coloured meringue – and fold in with a good rubber spatula. Folding in the mixture takes a good few minutes so don’t rush or just mash the mixtures together. The first time I made macarons, I watched how to fold the mixtures in this helpful video. 5 minutes into the video, you'll see the perfect macaronnage texture. Be careful not to overdo your folding either! That has some ugly consequences, I’ve read. If you haven’t folded the mixture enough, they will form little peaks that don’t smooth out when you pipe them – you can test by piping out a small amount first.
Step 6: Pipe, rest and bake (le good life)
Line your baking trays with baking paper. Not wax paper, because it will stick! I love baking paper. It doesn't need ANY additional greasing - which isn't good for meringue based desserts anyway - like Pavlova. Trust me, and: Get. Baking. Paper.
Put a round icing nozzle (Ateco 807) in a pastry bag, and fill the bag with macaron batter.
Using a circle template under your baking paper – or you can just wing it and make your own circles, pipe out the macarons and leave to “rest” for 30-60 minutes – the point of this is you want the top of the macarons to form a dry ‘shell’. When you (lightly) touch the tops, no batter will separate from the shell and stick to your finger.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/350 Fahrenheit. This is important; you want the oven to be nice and preheated. Rap the underside of the baking tray against the counter or with your hands before putting it into the oven. Lower temperature to 150 degrees Celsius and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for a further 8-10 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool for a couple minutes on the tray, then transfer the paper with the macarons to a wire rack to cool completely before removing. It should come away easily.
I recommend making the ganache before your macarons, especially if you’re pressed for time – because it needs a few hours in the refrigerator to firm up before filling the macarons. I also recommend you use the best white chocolate you can find – maybe that’s because I’m not a huge fan of the taste of most white chocolates. But Lindt has always been good to me.
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup white Lindt chocolate
Place chocolate in blender or mixing bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan till it just begins to bubble, pour over pieces of chocolate and stir well until melted. Then add butter and blitz all till smooth. When cool – refrigerate for a few hours to thicken mixture. Pipe onto macaron shells, sandwich with other half. Put in an airtight container and refrigerate - remove 30 minutes before serving.
This was quite sweet, but by far the best macaron I’ve tasted. Next time I'm doubling the recipe; the woes of sharing with my family. I don't mind sharing with women of course, but the kids and guys ate all my macarons up. I feel like a little French baby bear.